With its feathery green foliage, maidenhair fern makes a graceful addition to shade gardens or areas of the home that offer it plenty of humidity and diffused light. Make the commitment to providing this plant the living conditions it requires and you’ll be rewarded with a specimen that enhances the landscape or brings the beauty of nature indoors.
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Surprisingly, many species of this delicate, tropical-looking plant are winter hardy; some are even native to the United States. No matter which species you grow, all maidenhair ferns feature light green compound leaves comprised of small leaflets. Several species and varieties bear new growth in pink or red that eventually ages to green. Most maidenhair ferns sport striking shiny black leaf stalks (petioles) that stand out against all the green foliage.
Maidenhair Care Must-Knows
In their native habitats, maidenhair ferns are quite vigorous and spread by branched rhizomes beneath the soil. Perennial species of maidenhair ferns, for example, grow in cool, humid areas such as near shady streams. This can be a tricky habitat to recreate in a home setting. Just keep in mind that ferns like organically rich, well-drained, moisture-retentive soils. Amend your garden soil, if needed, with compost and organic matter. Don't let maidenhair ferns dry out, or they'll die back and go dormant.
It's also important to keep this fern sheltered, because its delicate leaves can quickly burn and dry out with too much sun. Plant it in a shady location where any direct sun (if it's a factor) reaches the plant only early in the morning when its rays are less intense. For a visual treat, plant maidenhair fern atop a rock wall where its graceful foliage can spill over the edge.
Take special care when growing maidenhair fern indoors, because home environments are often too dry for this plant. Consistently moist but well-drained potting soil is a must to replicate the plant's natural habitat in humus-rich woodlands. Growing this fern beneath a cloche or in a terrarium may solve the humidity problem. But keep the fern out of direct sun, or you risk cooking it within the enclosed environment.
In addition to or in place of daily misting, you may want to place a saucer filled with pebbles beneath the potted plant. Fill the saucer with water to just below the top of the pebbles. As the water evaporates, it creates a humid microclimate around the plant. Avoid sitting the pot near heat registers and cooling vents, or in drafty areas. Don't overwater; saturated soil may lead to stem or root rot. And never let the roots dry out, or the plant may shrivel up and go dormant or die.
More Varieties of Maidenhair Fern
Adiantum raddianum is the classic houseplant maidenhair fern. These have delicate, pendulous foliage and need high humidity to survive. Zones 10-11.
Northern maidenhair fern
Adiantum pedatum aleuticum, at 30 inches tall, is larger than American maidenhair fern. It has black stems. New growth may be tinged pink. Zones 3-8.
American maidenhair fern
Adiantum pedatum is native to North America and bears upright black or brown stalks with featherlike medium green fronds. It grows 12-16 inches tall. Zones 3-8.
Maidenhair Fern Companion Plants
In early spring, the brilliant blue, pink, or white flowers of lungwort bloom despite the coldest chill. The rough basal leaves, spotted or plain, always please and continue to be handsome through the season and into winter. Planted close as a weed-discouraging groundcover, or in borders as edgings or bright accent plants, lungworts are workhorses and retain their good looks. Provide high-humus soil that retains moisture. Although lungwort tolerates dry conditions, be alert for mildew.
This plant hardly grown 40 years ago is now one of the most commonly grown garden plants. But hosta has earned its spot in the hearts of gardeners—it's among the easiest plants to grow, as long as you have some shade and ample rainfall. Hostas vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that can be puckered, wavy-edged, white, or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged—the variations are virtually endless. Hostas in new sizes and touting new foliage features seem to appear each year. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer. Some are intensely fragrant. Hostas are a favorite of slug and deer.
It's hard to find bright color for shade, so it's a puzzle that brightly colored corydalis isn't more widely planted. It's is an outstanding shade plant. Blooms are small, but they appear in clusters. Leaves look similar to those of fringe-leaf bleeding heart. Plants self-seed readily, but excess seedlings are easy to remove. Provide the plant with moist, organic soil for best growth.